Tamahere nurtures earthquake weary


For the last two years, The Monastery, the therapeutic retreat at Tamahere, has offered a free, five-day retreat to Cantabrians directly affected by the earthquakes.

Donations are invited to help earthquake weary Christchurch people have respone at The Monastery
Donations are invited to help earthquake weary Christchurch people have respite at The Monastery

More than 350 Cantabrians, usually five at a time, have passed through the Newell Rd retreat since its Christchurch Project began in May 2011. The costs, at $1800 per retreat, have been fully met by The Monastery’s founder, the Hamilton-based Wise Group.

Wise joint chief executive Julie Nelson says she and her staff have been overwhelmed by the response to the retreats and would love to provide opportunities to more Cantabrians, but need support to continue beyond December.

So this month, the very private Monastery has gone public to show what it’s doing and to, hopefully, win extra commitment for the project. Wise’s online donation website, Social Angels, has dedicated March as Monastery Month, to raise funds.

Visitors who have come to The Monastery from Christchurch have ranged from 15 years old to 90. The guests are women and men, from exhausted front line workers to sleep-deprived elderly grandparents.

Waikato Times reporter Denise Irvine reports here of the rejuvenating experience for two Christhchurch men, Dr Gerald Johnstone and Major Brendan Wood

Wood is the chief instructor at the Defence Force Health School, Burnham Military Camp. He led the Defence Force effort into Christchurch after the February earthquake with four medical teams to support triage. When the quake struck, Wood, who was in the middle of teaching health planning on how to prepare for disasters suddenly had a real-life disaster to deal with.

He worked 16-hour days for the next 10 days, helped with some of the body recovery and saw the havoc and destruction and the phenomenal efforts of “people who just got on with things”.

They have lived with 13,000 aftershocks, and the “hyper-adrenalised” response many Cantabrians have developed every time there is a little rumble.

“I’m poised to think what action to take,” Wood says. “That’s exhausting.”

Johnstone, who works with elderly people in regards to their mental health, at Princess Margaret Hospital, was at work when the February quake struck. He recalls about 10 people all running to stand under one doorway. Then they ran outside, were knocked to the ground and saw cars jumping around the car park.

While he was spared the graphic experiences of Wood and many others in the city centre, he has dealt with much loss, grief and shock through his job.

“There are elderly patients who have lost their homes, their churches, their communities. They will never live to see Christchurch rebuilt. They will die in this chaos.”

Johnstone also talks about a loss of innocence in his city: People once trusted the ground and the environment, and now they don’t. It is bruising that so much is lost forever. At The Monastery, his goals are to relax, destress and centre himself.

“It’s very touching and Kiwi, helping your neighbour,” Johnstone says. “It is both humbling and nourishing in its own right.”

A beautful retreat

The Monastery is a spacious, well-maintained cream weatherboard homestead tucked down a long driveway with a discreet sign at the entrance.

It was built in Hamilton in the 1900s as a private home. In the 1940s it became a wellness retreat, named Peace Haven, and ran for several years after World War II. Then, in the 1950s, it was bought by the Catholic Church for members of the Passionist Order of priests, and became known as The Monastery. New owners rescued it from demolition in 1990 and moved it in five pieces to Tamahere, on a splendid site above the Waikato River. It has been privately owned since then and was refurbished by the Wise Trust.

The extensive landscaped grounds are cared for by husband-and-wife gardening team Steve Cantor and Shona Reid. They grow the vegetables that German-born chef Earl Zapf uses each day in the kitchen.

The Monastery team offers a range of physical therapies, educational workshops and counselling, along with rest, relaxation and good nutrition.

Programmes are tailored for each person, who stays on site from Sunday afternoon until Friday morning.

The aim is for guests to stop, take stock, rejuvenate and reflect, and to integrate some of the experiences and emotional tools into their lives back home.

The Wise Group is one of the country’s largest non-government providers of management services in the health and social services areas. It describes itself as a family of charitable entities that creates fresh possibilities and services for the wellbeing of people, organisations and communities.

Its work at The Monastery receives no government funding. It has bookings until December, but has closed its waiting list at this point.

Go to Social Angels to see how to support the people of Christchurch.

The Monastery has closed its waiting list, but people are welcome to keep an eye on its website to see when bookings are open again.

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